Not even ten years ago, to all but the most fervent of Star Trek enthusiasts, the Star Trek universe appeared to be dead. With disappointing box office results for the tenth Star Trek film, Nemesis, and low ratings for the fifth Star Trek series, Enterprise, there was no reason to expect something happening in the near future to breathe new life into the once-powerful series.
Enter J.J. Abrams.
The creator of Lost, Alias, and Fringe, who was able to successfully revive (at least critically) the Mission: Impossible film series and surprise the industry with the premiere of Cloverfield was offered the chance to come up with his own take on where a new Star Trek film would go. Abrams, an admitted Star Wars fan who initially knew very little about the Trek universe, worked quickly to educate himself about the layered mythology of the Star Trek series.
The result is one of the highest-rated movies of the year so far. Abrams and company have been praised for successfully rebooting a long-assumed-dead series while staying faithful to die-hard Star Trek fans.
In this interview, the Urbanite chats with Star Trek stars Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, who play James Kirk and Spock respectively. The stars of the new film discuss taking on their iconic roles, working with and/or learning from their predecessors in the roles, and how they feel their careers will work out in the long term thanks to their new roles.
Given that you both are filling two iconic roles as created by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, what sort of pressure did that create when making the film?
Zachary Quinto: I didn’t really feel that pressure because Leonard was involved actually and was so supportive of me from the beginning and because I had such faith and trust in J.J. and the creative team behind the movie. I sort of just chose to focus more on – on my task at hand which was doing my work which was really the only thing that’s in my control. So I didn’t really and I still don’t really concern myself with that stuff because I don’t really have any control over it. So it doesn’t really serve me personally or creatively.
Chris Pine: Yeah. I think Zach really said it. There’s only you know – there’s not much control you have over what – how people view our performances and these new incarnations of these characters. And I think it’s really a credit to J.J. that he always created an atmosphere on set where I don’t think any of us ever felt encumbered by a sense of responsibility or living up to expectations even though protecting the legacy was always on our minds but it was never – it was never at the forefront. It was always about making this particular version of the movie as great as we could – as best as we could make it.
What would you say was the biggest challenge about maybe preparing for the film or working on the film?
Chris Pine: I think for me, it was just the physical aspect of it. I don’t think I was really prepared for how much – how much – the physical toll. I mean when you read the script and you – and they’re about – you know there are all of these pages of description of these action sequences you fail to realize that what takes you – you know minutes to read on the page will take like months of actual shooting. And I think it was the stunts and it was the – it was the working with the green screen and stuff that probably was – that threw me most.
Zachary Quinto: I think for me it was a matter of finding the emotional life of this character with the restrictions of not really being able to express that emotion as freely as human beings do.
What kind of research did you do to prepare for your respective roles?
Chris Pine: In the beginning I got the box set of the series so I was midway through watching the first series – the first season of the original series when I kind of realized that what I was doing was really setting myself up for disaster because I was really – I mean what Mr. Shatner did was so unique and specific and wonderful. And what he did was such a great job. I just felt that it actually served me more to just really pay attention to the wonderful script we were given by Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman and really trying to live up to the great writing that they gave us instead of trying to immerse myself in the minutiae and the details of the original series as great as they are and as much as they might have helped other actors. I found that I was just – I was placing an undue kind of burden of – you know of creating an impersonation rather than an original incarnation.
Zachary Quinto: I obviously utilized Leonard to a great extent and engaged him in many, many conversations about the character. And I also had the advantage of being cast really early. So I immersed myself in a lot of reading about the world of Star Trek and the mythology. And worked with a good friend who has subsequently become my business partner who is arguably one of the biggest Star Trek fans certainly that I know, to sort of help – guide me through the questions that I had in preparation for starting.
What do you think diehard fans of the series are going to think about the new movie?
Chris Pine: I think they’re really going to enjoy it. I think you know the – the general counsel that we had behind the scenes was I think indicative of exactly what people are going to find. You know we had J.J. who’s kind of the self professed non fan but then we have – had you know these great protectors of cannon like Bob Orci and Damon Lindelof that were making sure that what we were doing you know paid tribute and homage to the – to the – you know again to the minutiae of the original series and to really the – the themes that Gene Rodenberry expressed in the original version. But then we had you know new life – you know breathed into the series with J.J. who I think – whose perspective is – you know it’s exactly what he brought to Mission Impossible 3 which is a great sense of character, a great sense of relationships and establishing the characters before – before taking care of the spectacle and the effects of it all.
So what was it like working on set with J.J. Abrams?
Zachary Quinto: J.J. has really incredible energy. He could not be more professional, could not be more open, could not be more supportive. And he’s also really sure about what he’s seeing and what he wants to see. And he has a tremendous capacity to communicate that and sort of blend it with (personability) and a sense of humor that makes it incredibly enjoyable. I would very much hope that I get a chance to do it again.
Chris Pine: Yeah. I think really what I appreciate about J.J. is that you know there was a kind of a – there was an incredible amount of pressure inherent in doing Star Trek not only because it’s a big tent pole movie but also because it is Star Trek with a very passionate and protective fan base. And so – really what I appreciate about him is that he always created an atmosphere on set that was fun, that was easy, that was all about the day’s work and never about – never about the kind of – the – the bigger picture which I think if we looked at it when we were doing it could have been – could have been disastrous and heavy.
How have you both connected emotionally with your characters?
Chris Pine: …for Zach, he obviously had the harder job because he had the – he had to use you know the modicum of the – he really had to (send) – you know bring it all down and couldn’t – well you’ll talk to Zach about that. But I guess for me – for me it was – I found it really easy to – well that’s not – I mean it – I – it was – I felt there were a lot of parallels between my character and myself. And I think the difficult job for me was trying to be as kind of transparent as possible because I didn’t really have to go that far for myself to find – find what it was. It was really a matter of trying to be as truthful as possible and you know – just because he’s the captain or becomes the captain of a Starship and it takes place in the future and he battles aliens and all that the truth behind it can be kind of the fundamental – the kind of things that he faces and challenges are very much the things that I’ve had to face and I think really everybody has to face. And I think it’s what makes James Kirk so accessible.
Zachary Quinto: I found it – you know I find a certain level of connection to the duality between one’s heart and one’s head. So my connection to the character was rooted in that mostly because that’s the struggle that he’s dealing with certainly in this story and I think just in general. I have a real affinity for Spock and a real appreciation for the way the character looks at the world. So I just really tried to embrace that and immerse myself in that throughout the process.
What do you expect for people that have never seen it before and if it’s going to appeal to them as well?
Zachary Quinto: I actually think that – I’ve heard from – now that the movie is starting to screen and we’re getting feedback I think the thing that I’ve heard most consistently is from people who have not been Star Trek fans who felt exhilarated and connected to these characters much more than they expected to be. That’s probably the most consistently encouraging feedback that I’ve gotten. So the hope is that – that the movie itself transcends the connection to Star Trek for people that might not have exposure to it. And J.J. has said openly and many times that he didn’t necessarily make this movie for Star Trek fans. He made this movie for future Star Trek fans. And that’s something that I think comes across in the film.
Chris Pine: Yeah. I think really quite honestly it has to do with relationships and good characters. And I don’t – I think it – it doesn’t matter that again it takes place in the future and on a spaceship and things that could potentially alienate people that don’t care about either of that or big spectacle movies. It’s – at the heart of this are really – really accessible characters and situations, feelings and emotions that we all go through. And it just happens to take place in this – in this – you know in this different space.
Zachary Quinto: No pun intended.
Shatner and Nimoy are synonymous with Kirk and Spock. And if the reaction to Star Trek turns out to be overwhelmingly positive are you willing to be and ready for what could be a lifelong commitment to these characters and possibly becoming these icons?
Zachary Quinto: Well I think that you know yeah, it’s – a lifelong association with these characters would be a great thing if the movie is successful. And certainly something that Chris and I have talked about. But we’ve also talked about both of our desires and interest in careers that are diverse and long. So you know I don’t think either of us plan to only be associated with these characters. If – if the association with these characters leads us to that level of exposure and awareness of our work then I think both of us are going to do everything that we can to make sure that we take that opportunity to do other kinds of work as well as coming back and playing these characters in the future.
Chris Pine: And I have nothing to add to that. That’s pretty much exactly – exactly how I feel. I mean I think as an actor you strive for longevity and diversity. And we’ve been thankfully handed a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for greater exposure. And hopefully with that exposure comes opportunity. But I am – could not be anymore proud of the movie that we’ve made. And if I were to be associated with this for – you know the extent of my career I would be – I would be – I would be a very contented man.
Considering both of your prior credits, do you think continuing the Star Trek legacy will boost your career in any way or help it?
Zachary Quinto: Well considering it’s my first film…I imagine that it probably will. I hope. I don’t know. I mean I come from mostly a television background. So the fact that my first movie is you know a $160 million tent pole I think that’s a good – that’s a good way to get into it you know? But yeah, I mean in the success a movie this big I think will have hopefully a positive impact on – on where both of us go and where all of us go as actors. I think everybody in this film is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal at what they do and what they bring to it. So – so the hope is that people will feel the same way and we’ll get to do other stuff down the line.
Chris Pine: I think it will – I think it will help with exposure and exposure is always good. And again I’m – I couldn’t be anymore proud of what everybody’s done in the movie and I think everybody is – will get some wonderful chances off of this because I think from what people see is – I mean Karl Urban with “Bones,” what he did with Dr. McCoy is fantastic. I think he shows a side that he hasn’t done before. As does John Cho, as does really again everybody in the film. But I you know – I’m not one to count my chickens.
Since this is a reboot along the lines of Casino Royale and Batman Begins in terms of starting up the story anew, what are the sort of deeper similarities and differences between the original and this new rendition of the adventures of Star Fleet and the Enterprise? And are there going to be also little tidbits for the fans that when they see it they’ll be proud of?
Zachary Quinto: That’s my favorite part of the movie actually is the little tidbits for the – for the diehard Star Trek fans. I think that you know each character has a sort of reference to the origins. And I think that there are circumstances and situations and you know little nods along the way that make it really exciting. So that’s my feeling about it. I think that there are enough similarities that people who hold these characters dear will be satisfied. And then there is enough new aspect to the perspective of the film that I think new fans will be able to hook in without necessarily having the history of the whole series.
Chris Pine: Yeah. I think that’s what was so fantastic about having people behind the scenes that were great fans, is that there’s – there’s little – there are little things in the movie that – that diehard fans will love and appreciate and – but it’s not – it’s done with – it’s done with a you know a light touch. Nothing is heavy handed and I think that that – you know it’s – it never – it’s never – you know it never becomes about the moment or about that little piece of Star Trek lore that’s hidden in the scenes. It’s always about the story first and foremost. So you know it’ll – it’ll please fans and novices alike.
Finally, were either or both of you Star Trek fans growing up?
Zachary Quinto: I was not particularly a Star Trek fan growing up, no.
Chris Pine: Ditto to that. I was – I was not a fan until I started watching the – the series when I was preparing for the role.